Freedom Camping At The Three Sisters

Packing up from the Mangakawa Scenic Reserve, Sarah was pleased to be moving on. Even though it was a very pretty place it wasn’t the best night. You can read what happened on this blog.  With the next stop to be the freedom camping area at Tongaporutu Bridge but first there were some stops to be made along the way.


Trying to be considerate to other motorists we all left the Reserve at different times although still fairly close to each other. Sadly it wasn’t long before we were the 5th motorhome in a row behind one very slow driver who wasn’t part of our safari driving between 65 and 75 kph without pulling over anywhere. It constantly amazes me the lack of consideration from some people driving slower motorhomes. When you are on a road like SH3 that doesn’t have many passing areas do the decent thing and move over when possible to let faster motorists move past safely.

Dave and Nita had been raving about the sausages at Mokau and had also suggested that we have a look at the small museum in the town which is entry by gold coin. Having recently done a tour of historic places in Northland and with it developed an interest in this sort of thing we decided to have a look. Like a lot of small town museums the focus of this one is the history of the area and the people that have made it special.

One of the first questions we were asked when we entered was if any of us have family ties to the area. As a lot of out of town visitors are searching their family history by coming to a place like this. It would certainly help that they have newspapers going back to the 1930’s so if you knew a specific date you could look at the paper and read all about it. Dave who organised the safari we are on actually came from the this area, well the other side of New Plymouth anyway so had a long conversation with the custodian.

Even though the museum is very small it has quite a bit to keep you occupied for an hour or so or a brief 10 minutes if you want to hurry around. Across the road is a decent cafe with good quality pies so we had a quick bite to eat. Then back across the road to get some excellent sausages, these are a must purchase if you are passing through.

It’s just a few minutes up the road to the Three Sisters a standing rock formation that has resulted from erosion of the cliffs in this area. After parking up in the reserve which also doubles as a freedom camping area we set off towards the Sisters. You can only do this walk 2 hours either side of low tide so luckily Dave had arranged a tide to suit.


The walk which runs alongside the river flowing out towards the sea takes you over a mixture of rocks and hard black sand. Looking at the waterline on the rocks it’s not hard to see why you can only do this walk at low tide otherwise you would be underwater.  We came across this boulder that made me think for one minute that we were back at Moeraki with the formation of the boulder looking very similar to it’s cousins further south.

About 15 minutes walk gets you to your first decent look at the rock formations and it’s about another 5 or so minutes walk from there to actually get there. The sea has created caves through the soft stone in places and in a couple of places you could have walked right through although the soft rock and the risk of falls would have me rather nervous about doing this. Also a couple of the caves whilst level with the sand at one end had been washed out quite severely at the other with very deep pools that you couldn’t have waded through.

Earlier this year one of the Three Sisters toppled leaving it now as 2 and a half Sisters but actually there are more than three here it’s just that the others are a little further along the coast. At low tide there really is a lot to explore along the coast just make sure you keep an eye on the tide you wouldn’t want to get caught out.

Of all the places that we have now visited in New Zealand this is one that is different from all the others and one that I would recommend that you make the stop for if the tide is right. There are some great photo opportunities here.

The weather started to close in after our walk so it looked like we had timed it perfectly. That night even though it’s quite close to SH3 it was a quieter than you might expect and certainly a very pleasant place to camp.

The following morning we were treated to freshly made scones served up by Tony who despite having the smallest motorhome in the group obviously has a great kitchen as three platefuls of delicious cheese scones appeared from it. It was actually his and his wife’s Margaret 33rd wedding anniversary so this was his way of celebrating  whilst on the road.

To work off the scones (yes I had two) we got the bikes out of the back of the van and set off for an explore firstly riding up the hill behind the freedom camping area and whilst there really wasn’t anything to see there it was great fun coming back down the hill. From there we followed the local road back towards SH3 were we found a concrete path that led the under the bridge and then onto a trail that runs up the river side of all the local bach’s were everyone had it’s own station for catching whitebait.

The ride was only a few kms and we didn’t want to venture onto the main road but we really enjoyed it. So if you do come here it’s worth taking the time to explore the local area as well as the Three Sisters formation.

Tongaporutu Bridge - Three Sisters

Proximity to Attractions

If you are stopping here it's either to break your journey or visit the Three Sisters rock formation and if you are here for the visit you cannot get much closer.

Nearest Supplies/Town

There is nothing in the small village so make sure you are well stocked up before visiting. New Plymouth is 60kms away and various small villages 10 or so kms away.

Ground Surface

The travel directory says it can get soft in winter but we found a nice level firm surface.

Proximity to Water/Dump Station

Nothing here, There is a dump station at the rugby club a few kms up the road ($3 fee) but no nearby water.

Outlook from Camp

Really nice our look over the river mouth and down towards the wild west coast.

Noise during Day and Night

Surprisingly quiet except for the occasional rumble from the exhaust brakes from the larger trucks on SH3

Cellphone Signal

Nothing at the camping area from any of the providers.


There is a public toilet here (only one) that was pretty clean but no showers.

Walking/Cycling Tracks

There is a small cycle/walk way through the village and along the river very pleasant and worth doing.

Pets welcome

You are welcome to bring your dogs.

Overall Rating:

If you can live without cellphone signal then this is a great place to stay.


From the Three Sisters we moved onto Mikes Brewery a Park over Property for the next nights stay. We were told that Mikes Brewery was the first craft brewer in New Zealand. It is located about 30 kms from New Plymouth right on SH3. Dave had designed our safari so that we would experience all sort of different places to stay, this one however had the advantage of a tasting room and a cafe.

The cafe serves a thin crust pizza and we can really recommend that you stop here for one with a great selection available from the menu. We had a chicken pizza that was also served with figs, walnuts and should have had blue cheese but neither of us could taste this. The only real disadvantage is that it’s set up much more for lunch than dinner with the cafe kitchen closing at 4.30 during the week so if you are coming to stay here time your arrival to suit.

It was a bit of a squash fitting us all in that night and we ended up taking over almost the whole parking area. I guess that’s what happens when you bring 11 motorhomes to a place like this. Sadly as I mentioned before it’s located right on SH3 and while it didn’t bother me or Sarah too much most of the others didn’t have a very good nights sleep with the traffic noise quite loud all through the night.

Mikes Brewery

Proximity to Attractions

Obviously if you are here for the cafe or brewery then you cannot get much closer other than that it's a 30km drive into New Plymouth or there are beaches closer that are worth a visit.

Nearest Supplies/Town

The small town of Waitara is just up the road or into New Plymouth for further supplies.

Ground Surface

Firm level gravel area

Proximity to Water/Dump Station

There is fresh water available here but the nearest dump station is 30kms up the road in Bell Block at the NZMCA Park

Outlook from Camp

Nice gardens but you are staying in a carpark

Noise during Day and Night

Lots of noise from the road, bring ear plugs if you are staying the night.

Cellphone Signal

Not great there is signal but intermittent


Clean toilets in the cafe only open during business hours. No showers.

Walking/Cycling Tracks

Nothing here

Pets welcome

Pets welcome on a lead.

Overall Rating:

Even though it was a little noisy it was a nice place to stay and the Pizza was very tasty from the cafe.

Knowing that we had taken over the parking area and not wanting to cost them business the following day the plan was to move onto New Plymouth the following morning and start the reason for this safari, which was to visit some of the gardens that are open to the public during the festival.Blogs to follow to cover our visits to some special places.


I think it’s important to acknowledge the people that made this safari possible. Dave, who is the area chairman for the Eastern Bay of Plenty NZMCA planned this route and did a test run with his good lady Nita. We met Dave and Nita in the south island earlier this year and this is the second of their events that we have been invited too.

Their motorhome is an Ace  Adventurer that they purchased in the UK three and a half years ago. They then used it to do an extensive tour of the UK and Europe then bringing it to back to NZ at finish of their trip. Dave tells me that they have done over 40,000km since they brought the van.


One other thing to mention about Dave, when he did the test run he also out together a fantastic info pack full of brochures of places we could visit whilst on this safari. The handouts also included an umbrella that came in really handy on a couple of the garden visits and more about this in some of the posts to come. Thanks a lot Dave we really appreciate the efforts you made!

To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.

To view the Ratings we have done for other camps click here 

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